Issue(s): Thor #337, Thor #338, Thor #339, Thor #340
It's a highly stylized, angular, explosive form... tons of detail, non-traditional page layouts, one awesome visual after another. Really cool. (And yet... when i was 10 years old, i hated Simonson's style. Too weird looking and messy for me.)
But i think this is Simonson's first time writing a Marvel book, and the writing equals or exceeds the art. It's an epic adventure plot that uses clever bits from Marvel continuity and Norse mythology. It starts with Nick Fury recruiting Donald Blake because SHIELD has detected an alien ship that seems to be destroying stars as it travels through space, and it's headed towards Earth's solar system.
Blake is surprised to learn that Fury knows that he is Thor, but Fury swears that only he knows; no one else at SHIELD.
Thor heads off into space to find the ship, and gets into a battle with an alien.
During the course of the battle, Thor loses his hammer, which reverts back into walking stick form (it's interesting to note that the hammer was dropped for more than 60 seconds, and it's when the spaceship enters Earth's "lane of ecliptic" that it and Thor transform)...
...and the alien grabs it, and receives the power of Thor. Yes, it's Beta Ray Bill! The horse that looks like Thor!
But then Odin appears and whisks Bill away, thinking that he's grabbing his son to help out with an Asgardian crisis.
Blake is left abandoned on Earth crying out to his father.
Odin soon sorts out the mistake...
...and brings Thor to Asgard as well.
Beta Ray Bill explains that he is a cyborg created to defend his people from a horde of demons that pursues his people - in suspended animation - across space.
It turns out the crisis Odin was interested having Thor address was also this plague of demons.
To resolve the issue of who gets to keep Thor's hammer, Odin commands that Thor and Bill fight each other to the death in Skartheim, a fiery realm, "where even Gods may perish" (surely Simonson meant for this to be the same realm where the Trial of the Gods took place in Journey Into Mystery #116 but i wonder why he used the name Skartheim instead of Skornheim).
Bill wins the fight - barely, and thanks to the fact that Bill's form is suited to worlds of fire - but he rescues Thor instead of letting him die.
As much as he wants to retain the power of the hammer, Beta Ray Bill is unsatisfied with the result of the contest. First, he doesn't like the idea of taking a hammer that was forged so long ago for Thor specifically. Second, he knows that he didn't fulfill the terms of the contest since he didn't actually kill Thor as required.
In response, Odin seeks out Eitri the dwarf, and, after some bartering involving Sif battling a dwarven champion...
...the dwarf forges a new hammer for Bill.
In this arc, we're also introduced to Lorelei, sister of the Enchantress.
With Loki, she schemes to trick Sif into thinking that Thor has been unfaithful.
It leads Sif to go into battle with Beta Ray Bill and indeed to want to stay by his side.
Thor, Sif, and Beta Ray Bill travel into space on Thor's goat-drawn carriage(!)...
...and fight off the demon horde.
Bill's spaceship, the intelligent Skuttlebutt, aids in the battle.
Throughout these issues we occasionally see a glimpse of a giant fiery figure, forging something out of the stars.
As he pounds on his anvil, we hear the refrain "Doom!".
It's implied that this is actually the source of the demons...
...although that information was hidden from Odin, and Thor and Beta Ray Bill close the source without encountering the fiery figure.
Back in Asgard, Odin transfers the curse that causes Thor to revert from Donald Blake from Thor's hammer to Beta Ray Bill's, allowing Bill to restore himself to his pre-cyborg form when he chooses to.
In addition to being a nice treat for Bill, it's a nice treat for us, since we'll never have to endure the fake drama of Thor having to reach his hammer in 60 seconds again.
In addition to all that, there's Volstagg in comical scenes explaining the history of Balder to an impetuous challenger named Agnar. Balder has seen better days, and is looking distinctly unwarrior-like.
Balder's turn for the worse occurred after a visit to Hela's domain.
Volstagg's words don't necessarily discourage Agnar from challenging Balder, but he uses other methods as well. Very humorous.
There's also a giant sea serpent in the bullpen for next issue.
Issue #339 is another book with a halfhearted contribution to Assistant Editors' Month: just a single page goofy cartoon instead of a lettercol.
Unless you think replacing Thor with a guy with a horse's skull for a head counts.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Crossover: Assistant Editors' Month
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (10): show
As I remember, Thor was also away from his hammer for more than 60 seconds in issue 334 when he used it to power the spaceship. There's considerable debate about how Thor's hammer should behave in space.
Posted by: Michael | September 1, 2012 11:56 PM
Added that scan to #334.
I wouldn't be surprised if the scene here was meant to answer questions about that issue.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 2, 2012 12:07 AM
PAGE O' STUFF, by the way, was the name of Mike Carlin's regular feature in CRAZY magazine, Marvel's answer to MAD. Like the above scan, it featured a caricature of Carlin introducing several random, unconnected gags all on one page. I believe Carlin also did the DIRK McGIRK feature for CRAZY, which took the form of an ADD-addled sixth grader's hastily scribbled school reports (complete with ruthless personal insults written in the margins by Dirk's "teacher"). Carlin fit in really well at a satire magazine, and of course he later went on to run the show at DC.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 5, 2013 8:10 PM
Dirk McGirk appears in the AEM story in Daredevil #202.
The MCP lists Crazy as not in continuity and they don't list Howard's appearances there. But maybe one day i will check it out (although probably not for a loooong time; i don't even have the b&w Howards in the Project at this time).
Posted by: fnord12 | August 5, 2013 9:59 PM
Ever since I read Essential X-Men, after getting to the cross-overs with Thor in the 80s I became very interested in Walt's run since it was clear Asgard was very different from Jack Kirby's run. That sentence is too long I admit. anyway I've folded and while I have pre-ordered Essential Thor 7 for more goofy sci-fi/fantasy fun I folded and asked for Walt Simonson's first Thor volume as well. Can't wait.
Posted by: David Banes | November 11, 2013 9:11 PM
Welp got the first two trades of Simonson's run, sadly they have been re-colored and while some details seem better there's a very kind of 'savage' touch to the scans above. Maybe rough would be better, but damn I had fun reading this arc just after finishing up gift-upwrapping.
Posted by: David Banes | December 25, 2013 8:10 PM
Finally ready to comment on this now that I have finished my own bit on these issues.
How awesome is this run by Simonson? This awesome: over 6 years after I sold off the bulk of my comic collection, I was so overwhelmed by how good this run was reading it as a whole in the Omnibus that I bought all five volumes of it in trade. The first comics I have bought in over six years. That's how good this run is!
And that's with fnord not even showing a couple of the best moments from these issues (one of my all-time favorite splash panels, of Donald Blake crying out of for his father in the final image of #337 and Nick Fury's reaction to Thor's transformation ("Thou didst not ask.")).
The first issue was also a bit of a cosmic shift for me the first time I read it, in the mid 90's, one that Marvel really went with full-scale in the Ultimate Universe: of course Nick Fury would know who Thor was. He's Nick frigging Fury! He probably knows who everyone is!
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 23, 2015 9:45 PM
Hot damn these were great.
Like pretty much every comic originally printed on newsprint, these issues are best read on newsprint. The colors are just too bright on the reprints, and the pure white doesn't work for me.
Posted by: MindlessOne | April 28, 2017 10:01 PM
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